I believe that the proposal to close more Garda Stations in 2012 is an outrageous and illogical one. Minister Shatter at the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors Annual Conference questioned the need for the current number of stations across the country. Minister Shatter stated that he has directed the Garda Commissioner to again review the 703 stations across Ireland to determine where further cuts can be made.
I have no doubt that rural stations will be adversely affected by these closures which will amount to another governmental attack on the viability of rural life and rural communities.
While the exact details of the stations that will be in line to close are not yet available I am concerned that smaller, rural stations that may only be manned by one Garda or may only be open on certain days will be in line for cutbacks. The Government since coming to power have shown a complete lack of regard for rural life and I fear that the approach taken to Garda Stations will show a similar disregard. Since the last General Election we have seen countless attacks on services in rural communities. This is particularly evident in this constituency, hospital beds have been lost, elderly services have been pillaged, rural dwellers face increased charges and taxes, rural schools are under threat and now it seems rural Garda stations will meet a similar fate.
It seems that the Government have no concept of rural life and the needs of a rural community. Rural Garda Stations are an essential support and service to such communities.
While I accept the Minister’s argument that transport and communication has moved on and developed since the foundation of the state, it must be stressed that crime too has moved on, become more complex, and is increasingly difficult to control. I would argue that now more than ever there is a greater need for Garda Stations to remain open and for Gardaí to be clearly evident in all communities. Indeed the AGSI President has himself recognised this, as has an appraisal by the Overseas Security Advisory Council of the US Government. A report undertaken by this Council found that policing in Ireland has been detrimentally impacted by the cuts inflicted on An Garda Síochána.
The Minister himself only a few short months ago detailed a significant rise in the incidence of burglaries in 2011. Rural areas were particularly badly hit over the winter months with a huge increase in crime and burglary. These are communities where crime rates would previously have been so low as to have almost been non-existent. These communities are now seeing crime become more prevalent and there is considerable unease in these areas. Rural Garda Stations are therefore more important than ever to police these communities and ensure that residents feel safe and that crime is kept low.
An Garda Síochána have already had to shoulder the burden of savage cuts and a lack of new recruits. They are doing a stellar job in continue to police our towns and villages despite the reductions to their numbers. Their reward is to be informed that more stations will be closed.
At present I am making enquiries not alone to Minister Shatter, but also to the Garda Commissioner on this matter. I am very anxious to ensure that all stations in this constituency are protected into the future.